[Event] Conference “African Scientists in Colonial and Postcolonial Contexts, 1800-2000” (Royal Society of London, Carlton House, 21 October 2022)

12 september 2022

The story of the historical relationship between science and empire is often told in brushstrokes, with scientists who originated from outside Europe being relegated to supporting roles. In recent years this approach has been challenged both inside and outside the academy, with scholars and journalists alike calling for more studies that seek to understand the proactive roles played by individual scientists who originated from indigenous colonial communities.

This conference responds to this important concern within the history of science by highlighting the lives and careers of African scientists who lived during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The papers address how scientists from Africa who were Black, indigenous, or other people of colour defined ‘science’ and how they drew from local knowledge about the natural world and the human body. The overarching aim is to create new routes of historical enquiry that afford deeper insight into the personal and professional ways in which European science was shaped by colonial and postcolonial contexts.


Session 1: Central and East Africa

  • Megan Vaughan (Chair), University College London
  • Nancy Jacobs, Brown University, USA. ‘Not an Ornithologist but the Bird Expert, Nonetheless: Jali Makawa of Central Africa’.
  • Lawrence Dritsas, University of Edinburgh, UK, ‘Pure Research in Developing Countries’: The Career of Thomas R. Odhiambo’.

Session 2: South Africa

  • Rebekah Lee (Chair), Oxford University
  • Suryakanthie Chetty, Stellenbosch University, South Africa, ‘The Scientific Life of William Anderson Soga’.
  • Diana Davis, University of California, Davis, USA. ‘Decolonizing Veterinary History? Reading the Partial Archive of the First South African Veterinarian, Dr. Jotello Soga’.

Session 3: West Africa

  • Noémi Tousignant (Chair), University College London
  • Abena Dove Osseo-Asare, University of Texas, Austin, USA. ‘The Very Reverend Professor B.W. Garbrah of Ghana and the Interchangeability of Nuclear Physics from the Soviet Union to the UK’.
  • Matthew Daniel Eddy, Durham University, UK. ‘”The False Theories of Anthropologists”: Dr Africanus Horton and the Relationship between Race and Climate Science in 19th-Century Sierra Leone’.

Session 4: Mauritius and Beyond

  • Matthew Daniel Eddy (Chair), Durham University, UK
  • Michael J. Aminoff, University of California, San Francisco, USA. ‘The Man from Mauritius: An Erratic Visionary of Science’.



Image credit: Twitter.